The chances of getting a Faribault gasoline engine to come back home seemed slim to none to the people of Faribault, Minn. In fact, nobody knew exactly how many of the rare engines existed since their manufacture by Faribault Engine Mfg. Co. began a hundred years ago - or where they might be located. But people did know they were rare, so attaining one would cost a pretty penny. Even if it was possible to get one.
Stirring the drink
Though he wouldn't admit it, the straw that stirred the drink was Dick Sunsdahl of Faribault, along with his friend, Bill Helling. "For years, Dick Sunsdahl and I wanted to see a Faribault engine come back," Bill says.
Dick's nephew David Sunsdahl of Stephen, Minn., had found some Faribault engine literature and Dick had it displayed in his shop. "I would always ask people in the community and my collector friends whether they knew of any Faribault engines," Dick says.
A 2006 auction ad in Farm Collector magazine not only advertised a Faribault engine for sale, but even better, revealed it was in Minnesota.
"Right in the middle of the auction bill was a Faribault engine, being sold at the Dale Hindahl auction at Byron, Minn.," Dick says. "What an experience that was to see that engine up for sale! I didn't even know that engine existed in Minnesota. I just knew I had to take part in trying to obtain that engine and get it home to Faribault."
Actually, Dick admits he wanted the engine for his own collection. "I knew it would fit my needs and style of my hobby, because it had been manufactured here in Faribault, so I was attached to the idea of what a tremendous history and heritage it would be, representing the manufacturing of this community, a very unique, high-quality engine.
"Collectors tell me it is unique because of the sideshaft that drives the governor, timing and exhaust valves, which makes it one of those high-dollar high-quality collectible engines."
So Dick began to research the Faribault engine. He found a history of the Faribault Engine Mfg. Co. at the Rice County Historical Society starting from Feb. 24, 1904, when the company first began, until its 1916 demise. Dick found members of the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Co. who remembered a couple of Faribault engines that were brought to area tractor shows during the 1970s, along with original photos of the engines at the shows.
The rarity of Faribault engines is confusing for several reasons: First, they were well-made and operated, so they wouldn't have been discarded easily. Second, they were sideshafts, which are always collectible. Third, a fair number were made, at least 795, but doubtless many more. A May 26, 1916, Daily News article said machinists at the plant were building five Faribault engines per week. Newspaper references from the early years of the company said the plant could not keep up with orders. Fourth, the company must have been a sizable one, judging by line drawings of the plant, the start-up number of 25 workers, and the fact that it advertised on the back cover - a choice and expensive spot - of the 1909 Rice County (Minn.) Directory. (C.H. Wendel says the only record of its advertising was in an October 1904 Gas Review magazine.)
He asked his nephew David, an avid engine collector, to check with his many contacts for more information.
The research was not encouraging: "Collectors said it was going to be expensive, in the $15,000-25,000 area," Dick says. "After a while, I knew the engine was financially out of my class. It would have just been too much of an investment, so I found some people in the community that would support getting the engine back home." So when Dick, Bill and David went to the auction, they were armed with information and a maximum of $30,000 they could use to bid. "A friend said, 'If we can't get it for $30,000, the heck with it,'" Dick says.
The auction bid started at $10,000. In 26 seconds it went to $27,500.
After viewing a video of the auction, Dick says, "My first and only bid was $30,000, 34 seconds from the start time. After 37 seconds, it went to $32,500. The auctioneer knew I wanted it, and gave me three minutes to consider bidding $33,000. However, I had to let it go to this young guy, Larry Lucke, of Ceresco, Neb." Dick got Larry's phone number and the history of the machine, but really felt down in the dumps. He knew his chances of bringing a Faribault back home were trickling away.
That's when he was introduced to Harlan Hjermstad, owner of an engine identical to the one that had just been auctioned. "The difference between the two engines," Dick says, "was that the auctioned Hindahl 4 HP Faribault engine was not restored, and Harlan's was. In fact, Harlan had used the Hindahl engine for a model, for sampling the exact color of the paint, and making the missing parts exact."
Dick learned there were three Faribaults all together, the two already mentioned and another one only 20 miles away from the auction.
He got great detail about Harlan's engine, and asked if he wanted to sell it. "Harlan said he'd think about it, being that I was from Faribault," Dick says.
Work slowly, work well
Dick says he didn't want to make a fast decision. He knew with enough time, he could get people in the community interested, so he hit the books again, so to speak. He decided to track down all Faribault engines. "I wanted to research every one in existence," Dick says. "Chris Romness was the most knowledgeable and helpful. He knew of four of them, and gave me all the information on all the engines he knew and was familiar with."
Then Dick began to call, spending many hours on the phone tracing engine by engine. "Some of the owners no longer had their Faribault engine," he says, "but eventually I found and identified five Faribault engines all together."
The first was the 4 HP he had bid on at the Hindahl auction, and that machine wasn't for sale. Second was a 6 HP engine near the Hindahl auction, and the owner didn't want to sell that one, either. Third was a 6 HP in Wisconsin, and fourth, a 5 HP engine in North Dakota. Nobody wanted to sell.
So Dick sat down and analyzed the data: "I took the histories and summarized all the historical facts of what I knew, and from what I could figure out, every 10-12 years a Faribault engine would be coming up for sale, through an estate or whatever reason. So according to that information, it would be another 10 or 12 years before another Faribault would come up for sale." That just wouldn't cut it.
So, Dick began to work on the fifth and last Faribault engine, owned by Harlan. "He could see how the town would want a piece of history like the engine he had," Dick says. "We kept talking. I asked him if I could find a Faribault buyer, would he sell? He started to weaken, and eventually agreed to sell it to somebody in Faribault. Jerry Heyer, a retired State Bank vice president, informed me that the president of the local bank, Dick Carlander, had the perfect fit. The timing was terrific because they were doing a restoration on an old antique store right next to the bank. They were upgrading it, remodeling and spending big-time dollars to renovate this building where they would maintain some of Faribault's heritage. If they bought the engine, they could put it into that display area, and have it there for the open house so the whole community could come and look at it."
Dick and others wanted it for its collectible value, but also, as he says, because "This engine represents the quality and integrity that our community has in manufacturing. Even today it represents what they did back in those days, such high quality, and it represents the high quality of the people who settled here."
So a deal was struck by the owner of the State Bank of Faribault, and his sons John and Matt, with Harlan. In July 2006, the 1,300-pound, 4 HP Faribault engine, serial no. 795, was installed in the newly remodeled expansion of the bank, only four blocks from where the machine had originally been built. Through a lot of hard work, and as Dick says, a great deal of teamwork, the engine had finally come home, where it belonged.
If you know of any other Faribault engines, contact Dick
Sunsdahl at: (507) 334-8966;
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact Bill at: Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56369; (320) 253-5414; firstname.lastname@example.org